More Military Helicopters Materialize
July 25, 2006: The market for military transport helicopters just got more crowded, with Agusta Westland introducing the AW149. The United States got this market going big time back in the 1960s, when the UH-1 ("Huey") saw heavy action in Vietnam. Soon there was lots of competition. When the successor of the UH-1 (the UH-60 Blackhawk) showed up in the 1980s, it was in a crowded market.
The AW149's biggest competition will come from another European helicopter, the NH90. Costing about $44 million each, the NH90 has been eating into the export market for American made Blackhawk transport helicopters. Over 500 NH90s have been sold so far, and often they beat out Blackhawks. American armed forces currently use some 2,000 Blackhawks, and hundreds more have been sold to overseas customers.
The ten ton NH90 can carry 21 troops or twelve casualties on stretchers, plus the crew of two. It first flew in 1995. The manufacturer, NH Industries, is a consortium of French, German, Dutch and Italian firms. The Blackhawk design is twenty years older than the NH90. Although the latest version of the Blackhawk is up to date technically, it is slightly smaller and lighter than the NH90, and can only carry eleven troops. Blackhawk max speed is 285 kilometers an hour and endurance is 2.1 hours. The NH90 has more powerful engines and larger fuel capacity, as well as being a bit larger. The big difference is in cost, with new NH90s more than twice as expensive as a new Blackhawk. At the low end, Russia is having continued success with its Huey era Mi-8 (export versions are called Mi17). This chopper is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1, but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 had a larger interior, and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. But the UH-60, while weighing as much as the UH-1 (4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 12 ton Mi-8. But the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Nearly 3,000 Mi17s have been exported.
The eight ton AW149 can carry up to 15 troops, and get by with just one pilot. Cruise speed is 288 kilometers an hour and endurance averages 3.2 hours. The AW149 is a military version of the new AW139, which began shipping this year. Customers won't begin receiving AW149s for another five years.